Tuesday, 9 July 2013 

Too often political leaders are going to become timid and intimidated by the usual avalanche of opinion polls when difficult decisions are taken. The whole quality of government and governance starts to decline as political leaders have to look constantly over their shoulders.

K Rudd announcing leadership reforms yesterday

The events of the last week have shown two important, yet unappreciated, aspects of Australian politics today. The first is the degree to which Abbott and Gillard have propped each other up over the last three years. The second is that far from wanting a seamless transition, Rudd has every interest in accentuating the break from the past, and Labor.

There is no better example of how cosy the relationship between the two parties has been for the last three years than the Coalition’s ability to get away with banging on about turning back the boats while Indonesia has made perfectly clear that it couldn’t happen. Even when the Indonesian Ambassador was sent to spell it out to the Australian media that not only was the Coalition not able to do it, but that it had never even been raised with them, the Liberals could still carry on as though nothing had happened. Before 27 June, the only one who pointed out the obvious was Rudd as a backbencher. Now that he has resumed power, he has picked up the weapon that has been lying on the ground and thrown it straight back.

The Liberals response has been all over the place. On one side have been Bishop and Howard calling Rudd reckless and irresponsible with Bishop saying that of course the Coalition would not act unilaterally. On the other side has been Morrison saying that they would, and upping the ante with talk of using the military option to turn the boats around.

While contradictory, what both sides have in common is that they are talking as though this is pre-2007. Bishop and Howard are talking of Rudd as though he is an opposition leader and putting the Indonesian relationship under threat – as though he couldn’t just go to Jakarta and get from SBY exactly the communique he wanted. Morrison’s military rhetoric not only fails to account how the political situation has changed since 2007 that would support such action, but also seems to forget the basic rule of politics: what can sound tough and conviction politics in government can sound flaky and risky in opposition.

The inability of the Gillard government to take advantage of the Indonesian angle was not because they were dumb. It simply reflected its view of the electorate that meant any nuance or “softening” in asylum seeker rhetoric was political death. This view still carried on in the new government with Carr talking about economic refugees, a stupid move as it raised the instant question as Tony Jones asked Carr, and Leigh Sales asked Rudd, on whether that implied a total breakdown in the existing screening processes run under the current government. It was no surprise that Rudd, and more interestingly Burke, distanced themselves from it and no one is talking about it now.

Carr’s lack of political sense sums up the current ineptitude of the NSW Right that was supposed to be the pragmatic wing of the party that knows how to win elections. As we know in NSW, and saw translated to the federal scene three years ago, this is no longer the case. If even the most pragmatic section of the party is out of touch, it gives a sense on how much an electoral liability much of the current Labor party is, and it is this that is driving the shake-up both in NSW and on the federal leadership.

At first sight the timing of the NSW intervention seems odd. While everyone in Labor acknowledges the need for reform, it was thought that it would happen after the election, preferably in opposition. Yet Rudd has announced it within a week of taking over. It is not as though he is announcing it early to get it out of the way, it is likely to carry on long after the election. It could be argued that being seen to tackle the NSW branch is good politics now as the branch is on the nose and it will allow Rudd to distance himself from the corruption hearings. Leaving aside that the latest polls show quite a healthy bounce back in NSW (curious given Rudd is perceived as “soft” on asylum seekers) and the urgency is much less, this view tends to under-estimate exactly what Rudd is up to.

One of the difficulties of following what is happening in the NSW intervention is that it is being driven by two forces with very different aims. On one side there is what might be called the Compromise group, whose goals are best set out in the recent Quarterly Essay by Latham. In it he describes the NSW Right as the ballast of the party, and that any reform must aim at restoring the faction to restore order in the national party. The leader of this is arguably the NSW Secretary Sam Dastyari who has looked to bring in reforms such as primaries for pre-selecting candidates. It was Dastyari who was instrumental in pulling together the fractured NSW Right to restore Rudd.

However, reform is also being driven by what might be called the True Reformers, whose outlook was best set out by Hawker and of course led by Rudd. Here the interest is not in maintaining the existing structures but sweeping them away to move to the populist Social Democratic European model.

It would seem that in as much as the Compromise group is more in line with existing party structures (such as they exist) that they have the upper hand. However, there are two problems. The first is that even moving as far as they have, they are not taking the bulk of the unions with them and in doing so have undermined their own position that historically had rested on their ability to marry the union movement with the needs of the economy for electoral viability (Shorten’s divorce from the AWU is a deeply moving example of this problem).

The other problem they face, of course, is that the inspiring project to revive the NSW Right has absolutely no interest to anyone else. Against that Rudd has, of course, the broader appeal of being against union representation as not “modern” and can go much further with public backing.

Just how far is shown by the terms of the intervention. Commentators have noted that many of the reforms are piecemeal and more reflect the Compromise group’s wish to keep the status quo intact. This is true; unless one has a touching faith in the role of Conference, there is not really much threat to the power bases in the party from the reform.

But while technically there is not much to shout about, it misses how it is being politically presented. What is extraordinary is the way that Rudd has linked union representation in the party with the outlandish corruption highlighted by ICAC. This is rather unfair. In fact the influence of such groups as property developers is more a result of the declining influence of the unions in the party. Not because the unions were some sort of watchdog, by any means, but because without the unions being a significant force, big business has little interest in NSW Labor. As a result, NSW Labor has become the home for the smaller end of town, with property developers crawling over a state Labor government like it was a glorified city council.

This means that while the technical terms of the intervention may be limited, the political way it is being posed suggests a momentum beyond what Dastyari intended. Maybe he has a sense of that following the announcement of the other reform that, reportedly, he was kept out of the loop on: the changes to electing the leadership.

The changes to the rules, which primarily apply to sitting Labor Prime Ministers, have an immediate electoral necessity as it neutralises the Coalition’s charge that the electorate may vote for popular Rudd, but they may end up getting what the considerably less popular Labor party puts in his place.

In reality, the changes formalise what has already happened. For Rudd to return, the power brokers have already lost control of a Parliamentary Party worrying more about electoral defeat than annoying their union backers. Rudd’s back down on appointing the Ministry by handing it back as a sop to Caucus allows him to reinforce its cleavage from the union base. In doing so he makes them, like the grouping around the NSW Secretary, reliant on being in government and electoral viability than the more enduring union base that has financed them for a century. Yet that electoral viability in turn rests on distancing from the old Labor and the political system in general, as Rudd is the best able to do.

The Compromise group may think they can stop halfway, but the logic of what is now happening suggests they can’t. They thought they had control over Rudd by getting him to consult with his colleagues, but as they found out yesterday, all that means is that his new leadership grouping presents them with a radical overhaul they can’t oppose. Rudd appears to have learnt lessons in exile, but it doesn’t appear the main one was to consult more with his colleagues. They thought they were getting a chastened Rudd, what they look as though they now have is Rudd Unleashed.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 9 July 2013.

Filed under State of the parties, Tactics

Tags: ,


34 responses to “Unleashed”

  1. Dare to Tread on 9th July 2013 8:59 am

    Excellent analysis as always

  2. Dianne on 9th July 2013 9:06 am

    Fascinating analysis Shrike. I am in lock-step with you on the part about refugees. I will have to read all the machination stuff again to absorb it completely. I was very struck by the last line though about Rudd Unleashed! What a thought to have had planted in my head so early in the day.

  3. Makka on 9th July 2013 9:31 am

    Rudd is playing his game of seeming. Seeming to change Govts irregular arrivals policy, seeming to be more responsive regarding deficits and debt, seeming to change ALP rules, seeming to be considering changes to the Carbon Tax.

    Not Policy or rule changes. Just hints and proposals. As we know from past history, execution is where this Govt has failed miserably. Their Policies have in fact been deadly, witness the batts and border protectection.

    It is in these areas that the Coalition must continue to hold the Govt accountable as While there has been much window dressing,there are no real changes in Policy for the better.

  4. F on 9th July 2013 9:46 am

    Seeming to do something? When has politics been anything but seeming to do things?

    The reality is that many international ‘policy’ areas are out of the Australian governments control. The example you use of boat people is perhaps the most obvious one(now). That is exactly what shrike is getting at in the above article. Rudd has embraced this lack of control and made a virtue of it. His moves would not be effective if the coalition had not made such a big deal about being able to control and affect change in an area where such control is illusory.

    The coalition has created a myth that it was once in total “control” over international events as they effect Australia. That is complete balderdash. The events of the last week are highlighting this for all to see.

    Indonesia is ascendant. And it will be for the foreseeable future. We better start coming to terms with this fact.

  5. Ralph on 9th July 2013 10:51 am

    Good stuff. Rudd is certainly looking to shake things up a little. And good on him for having a go.

  6. Makka on 9th July 2013 11:07 am

    Smoke and mirrors. Rudd is creating the impression of doing something when in fact nothing has been done to fix the problem. This despite the fact he now admits to “mistakes”, never his of course.

    Our border potection Policy regime is completely within OUR control. This Govt abdicated that responsibility when it changed successful and effective laws which now costs hundreds of lives. There was complete control of our border, witness 3 boats in 3 years under JWH with vastly less loss of life. These are the undeniable , irrefutable FACTS now being attempted to conjure out of our memory.

    Incompetence in fact kills, something this Govt has never acknowledged until it was sheeted home to them by a Qld magistrate.

    Indonesia may be ascendant , which is nothing new or unnatural. What is new is that Australia has been led into decline through bad governance. Rudd’s impressionist wizardry is clearly infecting many it seems.

  7. Doug on 9th July 2013 11:43 am

    In the world in which we live no government has complete border control, least of all that empire in decline the US. The attempt to achieve this control would be economically horrendous for minimal benefit and would isolate us from countries in the region with whom we would like to cooperate on a range of much more significant economic and political issues. To carry on as the Opposition seems to want to do with playing at military games is politically irresponsible and shows why they do not deserve to be in government.

  8. F on 9th July 2013 11:43 am

    Hey Makka,

    If you believe JWH’s(Sounds like a car muffler repair shop) policies had any effect on the flow of refugees across the seas towards Australia, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    Even if it did have an effect, are conditions the same now as they were all the way back when? No. As shrike outlines, the conditions are NOT the same. You may have an antiquated notion of our “role” in the region, but the Indonesians most certainly do not. Indonesia being ascendant is everything. You would gloss over it like it is a minor concern. It isn’t. When Howard initiated whatever it was he initiated he was lucky. He was lucky because Indonesia was in political turmoil and obsessed with internal politics. That is not the case now.

    In Indonesian voter-land and it’s provinces. boat’s returning is unpopular. Refugee facilities are unpopular. Processing centres are even more unpopular. As Indonesia is now a democracy local governors are really not in the business of making a big fuss over what is a minor issue to them. In fact they can use refusal of Australian overtures on asylum seekers to their political advantage. Dog whistle politics can cut both ways.

    SBY sits in the middle of a country of many thousands of islands and cultures. There are ongoing separatist movements, growing and assertive northern neighbours, and a huge and growing population what needs feeding, clothing, educating, and distracting. We are an inoffensive, but anachronistic, remnant of colonialism, with tickets on ourselves. Stop pretending we can get our own way if the Indonesians aren’t interested. We should grateful they appear to have put to one side all the previous attempts at internal interferences we have have made.

    You would have the Australian government subsume everything in its relationship with Indonesia over the minor matter of boat arrivals. If that standpoint wasn’t so dangerous it would be laughable.

  9. David Jackmanson on 9th July 2013 11:48 am

    “This means that while the technical terms of the intervention may be limited, the political way it is being posed suggests a momentum beyond what Dastyari intended. Maybe he has a sense of that following the announcement of the other reform that, reportedly, he was kept out of the loop on: the changes to electing the leadership”.

    I think this momentum is key, especially how Rudd uses it to change the way preselections work. As you’ve mentioned before, up to now ALP primary plebiscites for preselection have been mostly cosmetic, but if Rudd can carry through on his threat to get a mass wave of new members joining the ALP (members who will almost certainly not join the current organised factions), this will dilute the power of the factional leaders even more. Hell, if Rudd really wants to stamp on them, how about a Statewide plebiscite to decide the Senate ticket?

    I think the medium-term trend will be for the ALP to become less and less a coherent machine, and more like the temporary electoral fronts thrown up by student politicians.

  10. kymbos on 9th July 2013 12:48 pm

    Shrike, any chance you could write a piece on exactly how the unions have/had influence on the ALP? That is, through which mechanisms they carry power over the Party?

    I’d like to understand in a bit more detail how this happens.

    Otherwise, if you could direct me to some other reading on this I’d be grateful.

    Thanks again.

  11. Joe9000 on 9th July 2013 3:03 pm

    “the Coalition’s ability to get away with banging on about turning back the boats while Indonesia has made perfectly clear that it couldn’t happen.”

    I’m curious as to how Indonesia will stop it from happening. If a vessel is turned around back into the Indonesia waters it came from, what does Indonesia intend to do? Intercept it with their navy – which can’t even stop the boats from leaving in the first place?

    And how does Indonesia prevent a boat – which has most likely been registered in Indonesia (under Indonesian law, vessels of around the size that can carry asylum seekers usually need to be registered), that disembarked from an Indonesian port, and is crewed by Indonesians – from returning to its port of origin? Assuming it could police its coastline (which it can’t, as is evidenced by recent maritime incidents where the Indonesian navy were incapable of responding in time), doesn’t that amount to a forced deportation of their own citizens? Or does Indonesia intend on removing the crew from the vessel and letting it drift?

    So please, apart from diplomatic words (which are as much about the Indonesians playing local politics as Tony Abbott’s slogans are), how exactly does Indonesia intend to enforce this policy? And what legal basis does it have?

  12. Bill on 9th July 2013 3:25 pm

    It does seem ‘good politics’ these leadership reforms. If passed, it will undermine the oppositions attacks that the public have no guarantees about who the leader will be post election time (should Labor win) .. /that it can all happen again.

  13. David Jackmanson on 9th July 2013 3:54 pm

    “So please, apart from diplomatic words (which are as much about the Indonesians playing local politics as Tony Abbott’s slogans are), how exactly does Indonesia intend to enforce this policy?”

    Well, at a guess, one thing they could do if they felt so inclined is to give a wink and a nod to people smugglers and encourage a huge wave of boats headed towards Australia. We don’t have THAT many naval vessels out there.

  14. F on 9th July 2013 4:23 pm

    David Jackmanson, how dare you suggest that Indonesia would “react” less than favourable to the Australian government towing/returning boats!

    Everyone knows that Indonesia would just lay back and think of England.

    Also, Shock! Horror! Could a “diplomatic” bust-up REALLY endanger other elements of Indonesian/ Australian relations?! Like trade? Investment? Joint anti-terrorist activities? Tourism? Resource extraction?

    Say it ain’t so!

  15. Ralph on 9th July 2013 4:25 pm

    I reckon the frenzy about Rudd that’s been whipped up in less than two weeks shines a spotlight on just how unpopular Tony Abbott is. Less than two weeks ago, it looked like Abbott was sleepwalking into the Lodge untested. Now that he’s not facing up against Gillard, someone that was even less popular and less respected than himself, being a hollow man with little beyond slogans looks like it won’t be enough. Abbott is going to have to remake his image, again, or this contest might get very interesting indeed.

  16. Joe9000 on 9th July 2013 4:47 pm

    @David Jackmanson: If all Indonesia has to do to get “a huge wave of boats” headed for Australia is to “give a wink and a nod to people smugglers”, then that says the boats CAN be stopped, and that international factors have little to do with it. In fact it goes so far as to suggest that its corrupt Indonesian politicians refusing to stop the trade, because they’ll no longer gain out of it.

  17. The Piping Shrike on 9th July 2013 5:02 pm

    I think that’s the point isn’t it? Indonesia can make a difference and that’s why their cooperation is needed. They don’t want unilateral action from Australia which is how they see the Coalition plan. Naturally they are playing politics as well, they just don’t want to be stuck with them because of Australian politics.

  18. Andrew Elder on 9th July 2013 8:26 pm

    I knew ALP reform in NSW was bullshit when Dastyari remained in place and nobody, federal or state, feared for their preselection.

    I can’t believe a control freak is talking about devolution of power. Taking it from others and aggregating it to himself, that I understand; taking it from others and placing trust in ordinary members (oh and Sam Dastyari), hmmm.

    Interesting that Stephen Conroy has been so quiet, and that no intrepid investigative journalist has gone looking for him.

  19. The Piping Shrike on 9th July 2013 8:47 pm

    Guess they’re just sitting back and waiting to review the memoirs.

  20. jaybuoy on 12th July 2013 5:51 pm

    Rudd is putting one in behind the jack with his voting proposal.. that is insuring that if the LNP change back to Turnbull he will be able to raise the chances of a change once the election is fought.. bearing in mind that whilst Rudd has personality issues with some colleagues the separation on policy issues is meagre Mr B on the other hand has deep philosophical and policy differences with his fellow travellers
    on basic issues like a rational approach to C02 reduction..
    Rudd will soon look cemented in and any move to Malcolm by the LNP is going to be fraught..and looking a trifle chalice like to the lucky recipient..

  21. Political Animal on 13th July 2013 11:03 am

    Rudd looks after Rudd pretty much. No surprise someone as stupid and misogynistic as the Piping Shrike (actually, they are magpies after all, not Piping Shrikes.)

  22. Political Animal on 13th July 2013 11:11 am

    Oh, and all this “oh wow, haven’t the polls changed since Rudd became PM” bullshit irritates me too.

    Newspoll with 14% “Others” was always bullshit, was rigged to panic the caucus and panic it it did. Next Newspoll—they put Others as 10%, giving the 4% to Labor where it should always have been.

    Then Morgan, with its Face to Face suffering heavily from “Shy Tory” effect puffed the polls up a bit more.

    Easy enough to sit on the sidelines and scribble. Tell me, almighty Magpie, when PM Rudd (assuming he wins the election) has to be removed again, as he will, being both a micromanager and unable to make decisions, what damage will be done to the Party? I note Rudd has hired children again as his advisors.

    The NSW non–intervention is to fortify himself as PM, as is loading Albo up with two huge portfolios—not much checking of Rudd by Albo and in any case Rudd 747 can fly off and announce things from afar.

    I can only see danger and damage and for what? Julia would have defeated Abbott.

  23. Riccardo on 13th July 2013 1:43 pm

    Apart from your insulting the blog host, which i think should be enough to have your posts removed and you banned, you clearly trolling for a fight. I won’t give you that.

    That said, I hope Rudd does ‘mismanage’ the ALP enough to destroy it. I might well vote for the party that will replace it in the political firmament. If one man could so easily destroy a part, then clearly said party is past its used by date.

    And the same could be said for the Libs. If Turnbull and Abbott really are that different (and one vote separates them) then the Liberal Party can’t really stand for much can it? Climate change/denial depending on who’s the boss. Gay marriage ditto. Abortion ditto. NBN ditto.

  24. Davo on 14th July 2013 7:38 pm

    Political animal has declared he’s not even going to vote at the next election. Prepared to boldly take the $20 hit to the bottom line. Some “political animal”. Nuff said.

  25. atomou on 15th July 2013 9:29 am

    No such thing as not voting. Aristotle’s observation was accurate and clear: Man is a political animal, ie, he (generatively speaking) is a part of the polis, the State, whether he likes it or not. If he votes for Someone, that vote is counted as being for Someone; if he doesn’t vote, his vote -by its absence- will go to the incumbent. In other words, to the Status Quo. If the voter likes that, then, that’s fine; he may as well, “sit on the sidelines and scribble.”

    Differences of opinion will range from issue to issue and from non-issue to non-issue. political animals (as our similarly named friend here) have only two choices: to vote for Someone or to vote for the status quo.

  26. Makka on 15th July 2013 4:00 pm


    You really do display your ignorance. The boats issue is demand driven from the people who are paying $10’s of thousands to fly to Indonesia and board boats there. They are a local industry in Indonesia. Indonesia “ascendant” is a silly Leftist notion penned lately by academics who have never visted or lived in the place – as I have. It is designed to whitewash what are gross negligence by this Govt. Similar to that described by a Qld magistrate recently of Rudd over the batts affair.

    To kill the trade it is very simple. You must kill the demand ie remove the enticements that generate the trade. It is far too easy and attractive to become an irregular arrival in Australia. Even despite the risks, the rewards for these people are manifestly worth it. Even your beloved KRudd and Labor are now belatedly, reluctantly and begrudgingly acknowledging their deliberate deadly arrogant mistakes made with Rudds dismantling of a perfectly sound border protection policy , acknowledging that not all arrivals are genuine refugees. Only the whole country knew this for 6 years. The Coalition is right- yet again. As they are with the Carbon Tax btw.

    So please leave out your spin of JWH being lucky. That is what a Govt looks like when adults are in charge. They make sound policy that delivers as designed. Things work. Not this utter mess we are funding now and have been for 6 years. Rudds policies have proven deadly and not just on irregular arrivals. The boats situation is simply symptomatic of Rudd/Labor incometence and arrogance.

  27. Austin 3:16 on 15th July 2013 8:15 pm

    — You must kill the demand ie remove the enticements that generate the trade. —

    Agreed – so all we have to do is turn Afghanistan into a reasonable place to live.

    Easy peasy – should be done by tuesday right ?

    So tell me Makka how many refugees did Australia accept under the Howard government??

  28. F on 15th July 2013 9:40 pm


    You are a boring, self-absorbed, partisan loser. You have COMPLETELY missed the point of this post, previous posts, and from other comments you have made, the whole blog. You are unwilling or unable to comprehend this because you treat political issues like some sort of tribal blood-sport.

    Get a grip.

    Also I very much doubt you have any experience of any other nation because your comments are so bizarrely Australia-centric that I don’t think you have left Australia’s borders, let alone “lived in the place”, whatever that place may be.

    I actually think you could be Scott Morrison.

    If that is the case then I think you should worry more about you shitty hair plugs then anything going on with boats.

    Seriously stop the hair plugs dude.

  29. The Piping Shrike on 17th July 2013 7:55 am

    Play nice.

  30. Guy on 17th July 2013 5:53 pm


    Which makes you feel more like an adult, drowning women and children or driving them slowly insane on a temporary protection visa? Just curious.

  31. Guy on 17th July 2013 6:02 pm

    Of course the ultimate thrill of feeling like a big man usually requires military action. Is that you idea of how to impose your will on Indonesia?

  32. Doug on 17th July 2013 7:13 pm

    Deterrence of asylum seekers is not going to work unless the Australian Government is prepared to be nastier than which ever Government they are escaping from.

  33. Jay Buoy on 18th July 2013 11:42 am

    the “Pacific Solution” wont work for any government not prepared to work covertly inside Indonesia sabotaging boats and allowing them to sink.. Every other facet of Howards policy has been replicated to no avail. If you look at the data compiled on boat arrivals you see a massive drop off after the siev x tragedy … no one seems to be denying that operational money was used on the ground in Indonesia at this time.. the operation of this policy was run straight out of the PM’s office and is the worst government policy since assimilation..

  34. The Occamite Conspiracy on 19th July 2013 4:34 pm

    Jay Buoy, did all these other people die through covert action as well?


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